posted on 02 February 2015
Construction Spending Growth Improved in December 2014. Private Sector Construction Growth Now Weaker than the Public Sector.
Written by Steven Hansen
The headlines say construction spending improved this month - the data is volatile and backward revisions distort the picture. However, the rate of growth looking at the unadjusted rolling averages has been stable but weak. Noteworthy is a continued softness in private sector construction which is now much weaker than the public sector..
The backward revision this month again were generally moderate but upward.
Unadjusted Construction Spending - Three Month Rolling Average Compared to the Rolling Average One Year Ago
Construction spending (unadjusted data) was declining year-over-year for 48 straight months until November 2011. That was almost four years of headwinds for GDP. Construction spending is now in the sixteenth month of year-over-year spending expansion (unadjusted data), and the average rate of growth over the last 12 months has been approximately 5% - and this month the growth continues below that average.
Indexed and Seasonally Adjusted Total Construction Spending (blue line) and Inflation Adjusted (red line)
This month's headline statement from US Census:
Unadjusted Total Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change
Unadjusted Private Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change
Unadjusted Public Construction Spending Year-Over-Year (blue line) and Month-over-Month (red line) Change
Private construction has been fueling construction growth this year. In recent months, the rate of growth of private construction has moderated..
Public construction is up 7.3% year-over-year (up 1.8% year-to-date) - all numbers are unadjusted. Private construction is up 2.0% year-over-year (up 7.2% year-to-date) - all numbers are unadjusted. Construction spending would have to increase by more than 45% to equal the average for 2006, 2007 and 2008. The sector is in a deep depression.
Caveats on the Use of Construction Spending Data
Although the data in this series is revised for several months after issuing, the revision is generally minor. This series is produced by sampling - and the methodology varies by sector being sampled.
The headline data is seasonally adjusted. Econintersect uses the raw unadjusted data.Econintersect determines the month-over-month change by subtracting the current month's year-over-year change from the previous month's year-over-year change. This is the best of the bad options available to determine month-over-month trends - as the preferred methodology would be to use multi-year data (but the New Normal effects and the Great Recession distort historical data).
The data set for construction spending is not inflation adjusted. Econintersect adjusts using the BLS Producers Price Index - subindex New Construction (PCUBNEW-BNEW). However in the inflation adjusted graph in this post, FRED does not have this series - andEconintersect has used Producer Price Index: Finished Goods Less Energy (PPIFLE), Monthly, Seasonally Adjusted which has similar characteristics.
Construction (which historically is an major economic driver) is a literal shadow of its former self. Its contribution to GDP is down $400 billion from its peak level in 2006. The main driver of construction spending is the private sector. Here is the historical breakdown. The graph below uses US Census seasonally adjusted data.
Obvious from the above graph that public spending on construction is falling off, while private spending is slightly trending up. The overall effect is that construction spending is near the same place it was in early 2010.
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